Shades of Grey: What Is The Difference Between Sex and Gender
Updated: Jun 7
Traditionally, people have fallen into the trap of simply seeing gender and sexuality as black and white characteristics. You are either a male or a woman, who is heterosexual or homosexual. This is a ‘binary’ view of sex and gender. Reality, however, is that there are many variations when it comes to gender and sexuality.
Sexuality and gender identity are characteristics that are highly variable along a continuum, in shades of grey. A ‘non-binary’ view is a more accurate reflection of the nature of these human characteristics.
Sex is assigned at birth. When you are born, you could be assigned as a male, female or intersex.
Intersex might be assigned when your chromosomes, hormones or sex characteristics are ambiguous. Yes, that is right, nature is complex and ‘gender diverse’, or non-binary.
Gender identity is how you feel? It is how a person perceives their own gender. It is their inner concept of identifying as a male, female, or a blend of both or neither.
Gender expression is how you present to others. This could depend on how you act, dress, speak, talk, or your body shape, and so on. Gender expression is our external appearance.
People who identify as transgender might align their internal perception of their gender identity with their outward appearance. The way they dress, groom, act, speak, and so on might be consistent with their gender identity, rather than birth gender. Some individuals will change their appearance and behaviour in different settings.
Some of these individuals might choose to undertake gender reassignment through appropriate medical procedures, or a gender transition. Some might not.
Being transgender does not determine your sexual preferences. How someone feels or expresses themselves in relation to their gender identity, does not determine their sex or sexual preference(s).
TYPES OF ATTRACTION
Physical attraction relates to the attributes of the person(s) to whom you are physically or sexually attracted.
Emotional attraction relates to the characteristics of the person(s) to whom you are emotionally or romantically attracted.
Attraction is on a spectrum. People can be attracted to the opposite gender (heterosexuals), different genders (pansexual or bisexual) or the same gender (homosexual).
What is Asexual?
Someone who is asexual feels no physical attraction to others. Someone who is aromantic feels no emotional attraction to others.
What is Queer?
Some people do not identify with any of these terms. They see gender and sexuality as fluid. These individuals might prefer to identify with other terms like ‘queer’.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
Valuing diversity and respecting individual differences is so important. Embrace individual differences. Allow people to be who they truly are. By doing so, we create a more accepting and safer society for everyone. We can also then appreciate the rich tapestry of our culture.
Sometimes irrational beliefs, or even fears, underlie non-acceptance. A parent might feel like they have failed if their child identifies as a different gender or is gay, for example. The reality is, to succeed as a parent, it is essential to focus on unconditional love and acceptance of your child. Individual differences are something to be valued not quashed.
You cannot force people to be something they are not. Parental success is allowing your children to develop into who they are, not who you want them to be!
Is It Acceptable?
Accepting a family member as having different sexual preferences, or gender identity, might sometimes bring the gender identify and sexual preferences of other family members into question. This fear, however, is unfounded. One family member's gender identity or sexual preferences will not affect the identity of others. As a family member transitions, other family members might also require support and counselling.
Do not feel threatened by difference, simply embrace it. Let people self-actualise and become who they really are. Don’t pigeon-hole them and attempt to force them into acting, or being, like someone that they are not.
Can't be Myself
When people feel they must suppress their natural being, they cannot truly be themselves. Repressing one's gender identity, or sexuality, to avoid judgement, bias, or even possible rejection from others is not healthy. Not being authentic to one's true identity can lead to individuals experiencing anxiety in their daily life, especially in social situations. It can also result in feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness and even shame.
It is sad when individuals and families hold onto a very narrow and uninformed view of the world. Denial of a person's true identity can have a very negative impact on their mental health and quality of life. We all want to be accepted by others, especially our family.
As we evolve, we develop more insight and understanding into the richness of nature and the beauty in diversity. It is important to embrace difference and variation.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing difficulty with their gender identity, or acceptance, support is available.
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The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. Prior to making any decisions, we recommend consulting your treating doctor, health professionals, and legal representatives. This is particularly important if you have health concerns, existing mental health or medical conditions, or if you feel you are not coping.
(c) 2021 Dean Harrison